Netanyahu opens school year with visit to Arab town


More than two million Israeli children headed to school for the 2016-2017 school year.

Thursday was the first day of school for most Israeli children from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed students to their first day of school at Tamra Haemek public elementary school in Tamra, an Israeli Arab town in northern Israel.

The lawmakers were welcomed during an opening ceremony  by the school’s approximately 200 pupils in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Netanyahu told the students to listen to their teachers and to listen to their parents.

“I want you to learn – learn to write, learn to read, learn Hebrew, Arabic and English. I want you to learn mathematics. I want you to learn science. I want you to learn history – history of the Jewish People, the history of your public. I want you to learn the truth, and the truth says that we were destined to live together,” Netanyahu told the students according to his office.

“I want you to be doctors, scientists and writers, and be whatever you want to – and are able to – be. I want you to be loyal citizens, integrated into the State of Israel; this is your state,” he said.

Of the 2.2 million Israeli students who started school on Thursday, some 159,000 are entering first grade and 123,000 are entering their last year of high school.

There are some 180,000 educators working in the Israeli school system, including 9,000 who are teaching this year for the first time.

Pogroms interrupted: The era of Jews fighting back


As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom? 

Since the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago, has there been a more physically abused people than the Jews?

How many Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms have been recorded where Jews were virtually helpless to defend themselves?

Oh sure, we always managed to survive and pull through. We were strong with our values, our Torah, our culture and our wits in adapting to whatever limits were imposed on us.

But physically? We were always at the mercy of our landlords.

My ancestors in Morocco survived only because they knew their place. You never heard of a Moroccan Jew fighting for the same rights as Moroccan Arabs. Jews were the dhimmis, the second class citizens of the state. And still, there were stories of pogroms against Moroccan Jews.

The physical abuse of Jews reached its darkest and most murderous hour with the Holocaust.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say you have to reach your own bottom before you can turn things around. Well, the Holocaust was our absolute bottom.

Perhaps not coincidentally, within a few years we were blessed with our own sovereign state. What would happen now? Would our enemies still come after us?

Indeed they did, but this time, something weird happened.

The Jews fought back.

A ragtag band of Jews fought mano a mano against five invading Arab armies and won.

That miraculous victory saved Israel and signaled a new era in the story of the Jews.

The era of Jews Fighting Back.

We’ve been in that era now for 64 years, and the truth is, we’ve become pretty good at it.

This has shocked our enemies. After 2,000 years of seeing Jews cower so as not to get slaughtered, they've seen these weak Jews transformed into fighting warriors.

This doesn't seem very “Jewish.”

Even among Jews, this success has created a lot of handwringing and intellectual agony: What shall we do with all this power? Are we using it responsibly? Will it corrupt us?

I have to confess, I’ve had very little agony over this. The Jews’ ability to finally fight back has been a source of great satisfaction for me.

Of course, I’d be a lot happier if we were at peace and didn’t have to fight in the first place– if we weren’t surrounded by enemies trying to destroy us.

I wouldn’t have to shed tears when I’m alone in my car, thinking of Israel at war, or talk to my daughter in Herzliya about bomb shelters.

But if Israel is destined to live, at least in the near term, surrounded by enemies, what are we to make of this dark circumstance?

Is it possible that all this fighting might be serving an additional purpose, beyond the essential one of defending the country?

As I’ve been reflecting on all this, the thought occurred to me that maybe Israel is more than a country.

Maybe it’s also a statement.

An official statement that says to the world: The Jews will never go away.

This statement of strength after 2,000 years of weakness is so astonishing that it needed a singular, dramatic instrument to make the point.

And what better instrument than a strong country?

A country so powerful it has managed to thrive on so many levels despite being virtually under siege for 64 years.

So, that is my Jewish take on all this ugly fighting: Our enemies need to see, once and for all, that the Jews will never go away.

Maybe only then will there be peace.

The other night, at a Technion event at the home of Frank Lunz, our Consul General, David Siegel, said: “Our enemies have tried for thousands of years to destroy us, but they’ve always failed.”

The difference now is that we’re surviving on our own terms, not by cowering but by holding our heads high.

I’m sure some people will find this tone of defiance a little unseemly, not very nuanced.

But there’s no nuance in hatred. There’s no nuance in the desire to murder Jews. There never has been.

The statement that the Jews will never go away is a statement that must be made. We can thank Israel for making that statement in the most compelling way possible, even at the risk of upsetting a world not used to seeing Jews fight back.

At the Technion event, they played a video showing some of Israel’s global accomplishments, such as finding renewable energy, curing diseases and helping crippled people walk.

We can thank Israel for that statement, too: A world in which the Jews survive is not just good for the Jews, it’s also good for the world. 

Director of anti-Muslim movie that sparked attacks on U.S. facilities not Israeli


The director of an anti-Islam film that helped sparked attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities is not Israeli as he claimed, a consultant to the film said.

The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg reported that a Steve Klein, a consultant to the controversial film, “Innocence of Muslims,” and a self-described militant Christian activist in Riverside, Calif., said that the film's directo,r Sam Bacile, is not Israeli and that the name is a pseudonym.

Goldberg quoted Klein as saying: “I don't know that much about him. I met him, I spoke to him for an hour. He's not Israeli, no. I can tell you this for sure, the State of Israel is not involved.” Klein said: “His name is a pseudonym. All these Middle Eastern folks I work with have pseudonyms. I doubt he's Jewish. I would suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”

Meanwhile, a high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles told JTA Wednesday that after numerous inquiries, it appeared that no one in the Hollywood film industry or in the local Israeli community knew of a Sam Bacile, the supposed director-writer of the incendiary film “Innocence of Muslims.”

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats were killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked Tuesday evening by angry protesters.

Amb. John Christopher Stevens and three unnamed diplomats were killed Tuesday night in a rocket attack on their car in Benghazi, the White House confirmed Wednesday morning. U.S. officials said that the armed attack on the consulate may have been pre-planned.

On Tuesday evening, Egyptian protesters climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down an American flag and tried to set it alight.

The attacks follow the release online of an Arabic translation of the movie. Media reports said it was directed by Bacile, who described himself as a California real estate developer. The two-hour movie attacks the Islamic prophet Muhammad, making him out to be a fraud.

The film was screened one time at a movie theater in Hollywood, someone identifying himself as Bacile told the AP.

Bacile said went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

Klein told Goldberg that I there are some 15 people associated with the making of the film, all American citizens.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack.

“The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation,” she said in a statement. “But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

The Los Angeles chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Shura Council are scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday to condemn the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and attacks on diplomatic facilities and persons in Libya and Egypt.

In Washington, CAIR’s national officials called on Muslims in the Middle East “to ignore the trashy anti-Islam film that resulted in the attacks.”

Foxman: Draft Israeli Arabs, haredim to defend their neighborhoods


Israel should consider drafting its Arab and Haredi population to defend their neighborhoods, according to a prominent American Jewish leader.

Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Times of Israel that the proposal would undercut ideological arguments since draftees would take care of their own neighborhoods.

“You’re going to be protecting your own community, your own home, your own family. There will be some Arabs and some Haredim who will say `no,’ I understand that,” Foxman told the Times of Israel. “But if you don’t care about your family, about your street, then what are you doing there in the first place?”

In February, the Israeli Supreme Court nullified the Tal Law that exempted haredi Orthodox Israelis from military service. Since the expiration of the law on August 1, the Israeli Defense Force said that it has yet to encounter any significant problems in putting haredi men through the draft process.

Israeli Arabs are not required to do military service.

Foxman said that his plan would allow a more equal share in the national burden and provide the needed manpower to upgrade the Home Front Command so it can be better prepared for emergency situations.

“The beauty of that is that Israeli Arabs would begin with their own community,” he reportedly said. “They would take responsibility for the shelters, the communications networks, for the medical preparations, God forbid, of the home front. After that, they would expand to other parts of Israel.”

He added, “The same would be true for the Haredim: they would start with Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim but eventually would work in Petach Tikva and wherever.”

Arab-Israeli justice stirs controversy by declining to sing ‘Hatikvah’


The first Israeli Arab with a permanent appointment to Israel’s Supreme Court has come under fire for not singing Israel’s national anthem at a public court event.

Salim Joubran remained silent Tuesday during the singing of “Hatikvah” at the end of a ceremony swearing in new Supreme Court President Asher Grunis.

The anthem, which means “The Hope” in English, refers to a 2,000-year longing to return to the land of Israel and includes lines such as “A Jewish soul still yearns.”

David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said he would work to remove Joubran from his chair, including complaining to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon of the Likud Party on Wednesday defended Joubran’s right to remain silent during the national anthem, saying his conduct was respectful and that as a non-Jew he should not be forced to sing it.

Ghaleb Majadale of the Labor Party, who in 2007 was the first Muslim ever appointed to the Cabinet, also came under criticism after saying in a newspaper interview that he would not sing the national anthem because it was written for Jews only. Majadale said he respects the anthem by standing up.

Israeli hackers bring down Arab Web sites


Israeli hackers said they brought down the Web sites of the Saudi Stock Exchange and the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

The hackers, who call themselves IDF-Team, said in a post on the PasteBin Web site that the Jan. 17 attacks were in retaliation for the cyber attack the previous day on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and the El Al Web site, adding that “This is only the beginning.” The Israeli hackers also threatened to paralyze Web sites for up to a month if attacks on Israeli sites continue.

Saudi hackers used the PasteBin Web site last week to publish the credit card information of thousands of Israelis.

Also on Jan. 17, the pro-Israel hacker Hannibal published a list of e-mail addresses and Facebook passwords for some 30,000 users from Arab countries, Haaretz reported. He also claims to have information to allow access to 10 million Iranian and Saudi bank accounts.

Meanwhile, a different group of Israeli hackers posted the details of e-mail accounts belonging to dozens of Saudi medical students.

The Saudi hacker 0xOmar said he would continue to attack Israeli Web sites until Israeli officials ask for forgiveness from the people of Gaza for “genocide.”

Some 1,500 Israeli Arabs take part in Land Day protest in Lod


Some 1,500 Israeli Arabs protested in Lod on Tuesday against government policies which affect Israel’s Arab sector, launching the events of Land Day, to be marked on Wednesday.

The protesters were demonstrating against the government demolition of the houses of the Abu Eid family, which left some 50 family members, 30 of them children, without a home.

The protesters raised Palestinian flags, carried signs reading “Enough with the Ethnic Cleansing” and burned pictures of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Arab Israeli bound over on murder charges in Michigan


An Arab-Israeli suspect in a series of killings and attacks in three U.S. states has been bound over for three murder trials in Michigan.

A Michigan judge on Tuesday ordered Elias Abuelazam, 33, a Christian Arab from Ramla, to be tried in a Flint courtroom for a third murder.

In addition to the three murder charges, Abuelazam also is facing six assault with intent to murder charges in the Flint area, as well as attempted murder charges in Toledo, Ohio. He is a suspect as well in several attacks in Leesburg, Va.

Abuelazam, who lived in the United States for several years as a child and reportedly was living legally in the United States on a green card obtained when he married a U.S. citizen, was arrested Aug. 1 in Atlanta after boarding a flight to Israel.

Nearly all of the attacks, which include at least a dozen non-fatal stabbings and five deaths, involved dark-skinned victims, either black or Latin American.

Defense lawyers reportedly are considering an insanity defense.

Safed rabbi refuses police summons over anti-Arab letter


The Chief Rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, said he would refuse to respond to a police summons for questioning on suspicion of incitement to racism.

Eliyahu reportedly did not present himself to Jerusalem police on Sunday, as ordered, over a letter signed by nearly 50 municipal rabbis calling on the Jewish public not to rent or sell homes to non-Jews, specifically Arabs.

The official reason given for not answering the summons was time restrictions, the Jerusalem Post reported. But Eliyahu reportedly said, according to the Jerusalem Post that he “asked whether David Grossman, Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni, who demonstrated against Jewish presence in the Shimon Hatzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) neighborhood, were also summoned for questioning. Were there summonses for the heads of the Jewish National Fund, whose constitution prohibits selling apartments to non- Jews? If not, double standards are being applied here, and I don’t intend on playing into the hands of a legal system that acts in a non-egalitarian manner.”

Meanwhile, a letter from Israeli intellectuals, politicians and artists released over the weekend calls on the government to fire the rabbis who signed the original letter.

“There is an immediate need to fire these rabbis, who are inciting and threatening to turn Judaism into racism, and see to it that they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” the intellectuals’ letter read. “There are only two options: a proper, equal, free and normal country or a violent, racist dictatorship that will destroy Israel. Those who choose the first option must act immediately.”

Through the looking glass with Friends of Sabeel


Covering a meeting of Friends of Sabeel is a strange experience. “Strange” as in walking through the looking glass and encountering a reverse universe on the other side.

While we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence, they are mourning six decades of the nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

Where we see resolute defenders of the Jewish people, they see cruel persecutors of a downtrodden minority.

We quote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his support of Israel and friendship for the Jewish people. They cite him as saying that the oppressed must take their rights back from the oppressor.

A recent meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena was hosted by the Southern California chapter of Friends of Sabeel, which supports the work and aims of the Nazareth-based Sabeel movement and the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

According to the organization’s brochure, “Sabeel is an Arabic word which means ‘the way’ and recalls the Christians of first-century Palestine, who were called ‘the people of the way.'”

Founded by Palestinian Christian church leaders 18 years ago, Sabeel draws its support from predominantly Protestant churches and their congregants in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and Scandinavian countries.

Sabeel is hardly a mass movement. According to Darrel Meyers, a retired Van Nuys Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Southern California chapter, there are no dues-paying members, but about 300 names on his mailing list in Los Angeles and San Diego.

About 75 people, predominantly white and middle-aged Christians, with a smattering of Jews, attended the meeting in Pasadena.

Sabeel’s influence, however, seems to exceed its small number, partly through cooperation with some 50 like-minded organizations listed in its brochure, and partly through its persistent push for boycotts and divestment measures against Israel by mainline churches.

The primary speakers were two Jewish women, who addressed the audience with the passion and conviction of those who first had to throw off the shackles of ancestral beliefs before discovering the truth through long, painful struggle.

Judging from audience questions and suggestions, the speakers were preaching to the choir. As in most ideology-based groups, there seemed to be a considerable gap between the rather moderately phrased goals of the mission statement and the more militant attitudes of its followers.

Officially, Sabeel describes itself as a nonviolent “international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land, who seek a just peace based on two states — Palestine and Israel, as defined by international law and existing United Nations resolutions.”

However, the two speakers, both self-avowed “anti-Zionists,” moved well beyond the two-state solution to advocate a single “democratic” country of Arabs and Jews, which would welcome back all “Palestinian refugees” who wish to return.

Anna Baltzer, the first speaker, is an animated, 28-year old woman, author of “Witness in Palestine — A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories,” and granddaughter of a refugee from the Holocaust.

She noted that American Christians may fear that their criticism of Israel would be labeled as anti-Semitism and urged her listeners to define themselves not as pro-Palestinian, but as pro-human rights.

In a mighty semantic leap, she told her Christian listeners that “Jesus lived under Roman occupation and now Palestinians still live under occupation.”

The second speaker, Marcy Winograd, is a public school teacher and co-founder of L.A. Jews for Peace, which claims a server list of about 100 names.

She explained her advocacy for a single Arab-Jewish state by saying, “We are not talking about ‘destroying’ Israel, but about a transformation to a one-state solution.”

Among Winograd’s targets is the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, and she urged pressure on school boards to stop transporting students there on educational trips.

She claimed that the museum’s Holocaust exhibits are used for pro-Israel lobbying and demanded exhibit space for the Palestinian nakba.

The windup speaker was the Rev. Monica Styron, a Presbyterian minister from Sonoma, who announced plans for the upcoming seventh International Sabeel Conference, from Nov. 12 to 19, in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramle and Nazareth, with side trips to “decimated Arab villages.”

The theme of the conference is “Beyond Remembrance: Facing Challenges of the Future Sixty Years After the Nakba,” and Styron promised dialogues with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Audience comments and suggestions were perhaps more revealing than the speeches, including the following sampling:

  • Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Holy Land, on the model of post-apartheid South Africa.
  • Bring empty suitcases to work in support of an alleged plan by Palestinians in Lebanon to march on the Israeli border carrying suitcases.
  • “Israel and the Zionists don’t care what we say here. But they scream if we can apply political and economic pressure.”
  • “Tell the Israelis to choose peace over war and light over power.”
  • “I’m Jewish and have been an anti-Zionist for 40 years. There is increasing anti-Zionism in the Jewish community, especially in Southern California … Jewish youth, in particular, is open to enlightenment.”

The only exception to the litany of anti-Israel charges came from an elderly gentleman, born in Korea, who suggested that if people wanted to see what a real occupation was all about they should try living under Japanese domination.

When the man was gently upbraided for his heresy, he responded plaintively, “But I like the Jewish people.”

After the meeting, Baltzer, the initial speaker, sat down for a brief interview. On her business card, she lists herself as a “Teacher, Writer, Activist,” and her resume includes graduation from Columbia University, linguistic research in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow and the Web site www.AnnaintheMiddleEast.com.

An intelligent, outgoing young woman, she said she had evolved over the past five years from protesting the “occupation” to anti-Zionism, shocked by Israeli human-rights violations.

She is busy as a full-time speaker at churches and on college campuses, and her May 1-14 calendar listed 13 speaking engagements, from Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert to UCLA. Being Jewish is a definite advantage in her line of work, Baltzer said, making her a much more credible anti-Zionist than Palestinian speakers.

She has experienced little harassment for her controversial views, she said, though plenty of “offensive” e-mail, while mainstream Jews tend to label her as “naïve” or “brainwashed.”

At least while speaking to a Jewish reporter, she allowed that she could understand the “other” point of view, such as the Israeli fear of terrorism.

For expressing such soft-hearted sentiments, she said, “I have received criticism from the left.”

Paradoxes characterize life in Israel


To be an Israeli at the time of the state’s 60th anniversary means to be resigned to living with insoluble emotional and political paradoxes. It means living with a growing fear of mortality, even as we celebrate our ability to outlive every threat. We are almost certainly the only nation that marks its Independence Day with an annual poll that invariably includes the question: “Do you believe the country will still exist 50 years from now?”

Most Israelis continue to answer in the affirmative, precisely because we know that the odds have always been against us, and that we have thrived in the face of dangers few nations would likely have survived.

We are still “the only country” — the only country whose borders are not internationally recognized, the only country whose capital city has no foreign embassies, the only country expected in negotiations to yield tangible assets in exchange for mere recognition of our existence, the only country on which a death sentence has been passed by some of its neighbors.

Terror enclaves impinge on our borders, while the threat of a nuclear Iran grows. Our wars have shifted from the battlefront to the home front. Katyushas on Haifa and Ashkelon, exploding buses in Jerusalem — the inconceivable has become routine.

As the jihad against us intensifies, we long for the ever-more elusive promise of normalization. Perhaps only now, in our fitful late-middle age, do we realize how touchingly naïve it was for the Zionist movement to imagine normalizing the Jews by creating the only non-Muslim state in the Middle East, in a land holy to three competing faiths, in proximity to the world’s most coveted oil fields.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be proud of unimagined achievements, of being a world innovator in science and technology, of being second, just behind America, in the number of high-tech start-ups represented on the NASDAQ. And it means carrying the shame of chilul, desecration of the name “Israel.”

We have allowed ourselves to be represented by a president accused of rape, a prime minister voted the most corrupt politician in the country, a deputy prime minister convicted of molestation, a former finance minister accused of massive embezzlement. Other countries may have leaders even more corrupt than ours, but that is no comfort for a people facing life-and-death decisions and repeatedly summoned to sacrifice far beyond the capacity of any other Western citizenry.

In our late middle age, most of us are wary of the notion of fulfilling the biblical imperative of becoming a light unto the nations. “Let’s first be a light to ourselves,” we say.

Still, we suspect that we may be a light after all. In our war against the suicide bombers, we proved that a consumerist society can defeat terrorists and reclaim its public space — a historic victory for the world, even if much of the world doesn’t know it.

This is the third time in less than a century that the Jews find themselves on the front line against totalitarian evil — Nazism, Soviet communism and now jihadism. Each of those movements aspired to remake humanity in its image, and each defined the Jews as its main obstacle.

It is difficult to celebrate that pattern of enmity, but understanding the nature of our enemies should, at least, give us confidence in the essential rightness of our cause. By being the front line against jihad, Israel is performing the work of tikkun olam, helping to heal the world.

Not only are we fighting this war while bereft of inspired leadership; for the first time in our history, we lack a vision that can summon a majority of Israelis.

One after another our ideological certainties have collapsed. The dream of “greater Israel” ended in the first intifada; the dream of “peace now” ended in jihad. Finally, there was the hope of unilateralism: If we can’t occupy the Palestinians and we can’t make peace with them, we can at least determine our own borders. That fantasy ended with the missile attacks from Gaza. Now there are no answers, only improvisations.

Still, in place of ideological certainty there is hard-won sobriety. Most of us would make almost any concession to end this conflict and achieve genuine recognition of our legitimacy. But most of us realize that at this point in the conflict, no concession will bring us that recognition.

The left has won the argument over concessions; the right has won the argument over peace. For the first time since the Six-Day War, we are facing reality without ideological blinkers. The collapse of ideologies depresses but also clarifies: Finally, we understand the complexity in which we live, and that enables us to cope.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to acknowledge that our internal conflicts over identity can only be managed, not solved. As a modern state in a holy land, we are fated to remain at once secular and religious, without a decisive tilt in either direction. And with Arabs constituting over 20 percent of our population, we are fated to be both a democratic state and a Jewish State, aspiring to somehow include all its citizens in its national identity, while maintaining responsibility even for Jews who are not its citizens.

No less extraordinary than the multiple fault lines in the society is the fact that the society is holding. We have survived the murder of a prime minister and the uprooting of thousands of our fellow citizens from their homes in Gaza. We know our capacity for self-devouring, the Jewish yetzer harah (evil temptation).

The vast immigration waves of the last two decades from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia have yet to be integrated. But we know, too, that the ingathering of the exiles has its own momentum, and that, somehow, a people is being formed out of disparate and even antithetical communities.

To be an Israeli at 60 means to be privy to a secret that most Diaspora Jews don’t know, and which we often don’t acknowledge even to ourselves: Israel is a great place to live — to cherish the informality, the vitality if not the rudeness, the endless surprises and permutations of Israeliness. Within unbearable tension, we have created ease. The food is great, the humor beyond politically incorrect. Hebrew culture scandalizes the sacred and sanctifies the mundane.

Israelis are not in a partying mood


Israel is turning 60, but few here in the Jewish State seem in the mood to crack open the champagne.

Israelis are still gloomy about the country’s perceived failures in the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and every day brings fresh reminders that no solution has been found for the growing problem of cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t see Israel as a failure, but what makes this anniversary less of a celebration is that we cannot proclaim a happy ending,” veteran Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Achronot, said in an interview. “We did not reach a point that we can say, ‘OK, the period of state building is finished, and now we can live happily after.'”

The contradictions of life here can be painful. Israel has an outwardly robust economy that produces high-tech giants but also a record number of people living in poverty. There is a feeling of security that has come with a decline in terrorism-related deaths, but also a widespread resignation that peace remains a distant dream.

All this, to say nothing of government corruption, one of the problems most troubling Israelis.

“I don’t feel very festive,” said Shaanan Street, lead singer of the popular Israeli hip-hop band, HaDag Nachash, shortly before taking the stage at a Tel Aviv club recently. “Israelis are not too happy. They are worried instead about the next war and how they are going to finish the month.”

In a country where one in three children lives in poverty, there has been grumbling about the $28 million the government has budgeted to mark the country’s 60th birthday, even though some of the money is earmarked for educational and infrastructure programs.

Meanwhile, many say, the list of celebratory events is a bit of a snooze.

Aside from the bigger-ticket items like local fireworks shows, a huge dance party in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park and sound-and-light shows, scheduled events include a concert titled, “Military Orchestras Playing Peace,” and the display of the world’s largest Israeli flag, measuring 656 feet high and 320 feet wide.

The week after the anniversary, President Shimon Peres is also hosting a conference with a star-studded guest list on the future of the Jewish people.

Israel at 60 is a modern-day Sparta and Athens, Barnea said, walking a fine line in its dual existence as both a garrison state and a thriving cultural and business locale.

“It’s not easy to live successfully in these two worlds at the same time,” Barnea said.

Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator who runs an independent think tank in Tel Aviv, the Reut Institute, agrees.

The national mood, he said, exists in “tension between exuberance and concern, because Israel is a country that offers very polarized performances on a number of levels.”

“Let’s start with socioeconomic,” Grinstein said. “According to certain indicators, we are world leaders in research and development and ranked in the top 10 in the world in terms of business and technology. And at same time, other sectors are badly underperforming, like education and law enforcement and the entire government structure, which is in crisis.”

Grinstein advocates structural reform of the government to make it less beholden to sectarian interests, yet, he asks, which Israel will prevail in the next 60 years, “the Israel of excellence or the Israel of mediocrity?”

A recent Haifa University poll of Israeli Jews found their faith in state institutions at an all-time low. Fewer than half those surveyed, 48 percent, said they have faith in the Supreme Court, 15 percent said they had faith in the police and just 9 percent said they had faith in the government.

Mitchell Barak, who heads Keevoon, an Israeli research firm in Jerusalem, said recent surveys conducted by his firm show Israelis are more concerned with corruption than with threats from the Arab world.

Earlier this month, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav turned down a plea bargain offer that would have required him to admit to sexual misconduct in exchange for the dropping of a possible indictment against him on more serious charges, including rape. Katsav now may face those charges and go on trial.

“We are seeing a significant rise in people who’ve had it with their elected officials,” Barak said.

Ben-Dror Yemini, a columnist for Ma’ariv, said Israelis do not know whether the government has viable plans to deal with the country’s ongoing threats, both external and internal.

“They don’t have the slightest idea about what is really going on,” he said.

Eti Doron, a toy store owner in Tel Aviv, said a weariness has descended upon Israelis.

“There is a feeling of being down. People are not sure what is happening with the country,” she said. “Socialism has disappeared, the corruption is worrisome and our leaders are powermongers.”

A nearby grocer, Danny Horvitz, sounded a different note as he packed bags at his small store.

“Overall I feel positive,” he said. “There is corruption here, but overall things are good. Israel will be here in 60 years, and it will be even stronger. There will be a deal by then with the Palestinians.”

Horvitz paused before adding, “That is what I hope for, at least, and that things will be good for both us and them. Otherwise, neither one of us will be here.”

The dreadful ‘D’ words


Divorce, dissolution, divestment: These are words that spell the end of a relationship and of what might have been — through time and patience — a meaningful and inspiring marriage.

We know how often this happens to people we know, and so it is happening at this moment to the State of Israel. Like meddling in-laws, we, the world community, sit in the family room voicing our interests in the couple’s future, yet the minute we sense marital discord, we rush for the exit or take sides and fan the flames.

Israel has a population of 7.2 million — 76 percent Jews, 20 percent Arabs and 4 percent immigrant workers. The Israeli-Arab citizenry breaks down as 82 percent Muslims, 9 percent Christian and 9 percent Druze. All these groups live together in an intricate array of diverse ancestry, professional ties and domestic dependence. Each citizen has a vote in the functioning democracy that is the State of Israel, and by extension a voice at the family table of the Knesset.

The entire world debates how to intervene in this contentious and vociferous marriage, whose every dispute we mostly hear second-hand from the world media. Do we continue to support Israel, even though we know there are serious domestic disputes and inequities? Should we divest from, abandon, a world leader in high-tech, biotech, medical and environmental enterprises that benefit the world? In our desire to punish the couple, or one partner, do we ultimately punish ourselves?

These were some of the questions we sought answers to when we joined the Los Angeles Religious Leaders Delegation in an interfaith mission to Rome, the Vatican, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in January 2008, a group of Jews, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians and a Muslim.

Israeli society is far more complex than we had envisaged. With the exception of the Druze and Bedouins, the Christian and Muslim Arab citizens of Israel identify themselves as Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship. Nowhere is this glass partition more apparent than in Jerusalem, where we experienced the psychological barrier between Arabs and Jews. Although many Israeli-Arabs earn more than their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries, their wages and the social services they receive in Israel are not on par with Israeli Jews. This Israeli-Arab minority needs to be nurtured, ensured equal social status and accorded full civil rights and municipal services.

According to Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who covers the West Bank and Gaza for various publications and with whom we met, the employment discrepancy can be attributed to two factors: a lower level of education in the Arab work force, resulting in skills more suited to lower paying jobs, and anti-Arab employment discrimination, at all levels of business sectors. Toameh — respected by both Israelis and Palestinians — outlined proposed solutions to the problem, noting that the Israeli government is prioritizing educational reform in the Arab sector, and making genuine efforts to increase Arab employment in higher-paid professions.

As a Christian and a Muslim, who ourselves would be minorities in Israeli society, we believe our most constructive role should be to support responsible investment in Israel, not punishment through divestment actions destined to backfire.

Rather than divestment, we support investment — financial and otherwise — in Israeli enterprises that address social and economic inequalities, enable joint business enterprises, increase employment among the Arab population, and offer high-quality social services to underprivileged and minority citizens. Such enterprises are seeding the ground for a flourishing, mutually beneficial society for Israelis and Palestinians.

For example, at Tel Aviv’s Bialik-Rogozin School, at-risk students from lower socioeconomic level Jewish and Arab families and children of immigrant workers harmoniously coexist in a project partially funded by Cisco Systems. Children find a safe haven at Bialik-Rogozin, and receive a quality kindergarden through 12th-grade education. At Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Multicultural Center in Jaffa, Jewish and Arab teenagers interact socially and engage in a variety of social justice projects together, many of which benefit Palestinians in the West Bank.

We also came to understand how successive corrupt Palestinian leaderships have fed the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the territories. Any wishful thinking that divestment will lead to military calm along Israeli-Palestinian borders is strategically flawed. The present war of attrition between Israel and self-governing Gaza has been instigated and sustained by the extremist Hamas leadership whose charter calling for the eradication of Israel harms the very people it claims to serve, malnourishing the nascent Palestinian state which otherwise has the support of virtually the entire international community.

On the occasion of Israel’s 60th birthday, we believe people of good will should turn away from the destructive D words of Divorce, Dissolution and Divestment, and work instead for peace, security and happiness for both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe in supporting the prosperous marriage that can result from targeted investment and economic partnerships between the respective states, and between their many peoples.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson oversees 390 United Methodist Congregations in Southern California, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. Dr. Nur Amersi is the executive director of the Afghanistan World Foundation.

Debra Winger explores Jewish/Arab day schools


Students at the Hand in Hand Max Rayne Bilingual School in Jerusalem didn’t know they were meeting a celebrity. They weren’t born when the films “Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment” garnered Debra Winger her Oscar nominations.

But Winger’s tour last month to the Hand in Hand Arab-Jewish day schools was not necessarily meant to move the students, but to enrich her own understanding of pathways for Arab and Jewish co-existence.

“I’d like to think I’m helping, but in the end, it feels selfish — how much I got out of seeing this and what it did to my heart,” the 53-year-old actress told a group of reporters in the library of the school’s new Jerusalem campus.

Raised in a secular Jewish household in Cleveland, Winger volunteered on a kibbutz in 1972 and has maintained her connection ever since. In fact, she was introduced to the bilingual schools following a talk at the Jewish Federation in Florida on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Speaking to the federation audience, she recalled a “fight” she had with an Arab American friend that was triggered by the Second Lebanon War, which broke out while Winger served as a judge for the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“We couldn’t even talk to each other,” Winger told The Jewish Journal, recounting the episode. “She would forward me e-mails with newspaper articles for me to read, and I would reply, saying could you please replace ‘Zionist occupation’ with ‘Israel’ before you send it to me, and then I’ll read it, because I want to hear different opinions, and you have to show some respect.”

Eventually the two reconciled and made their private peace.

“I think in a way we have a deeper, richer understanding and more openness,” she said.

At first, the audience — perhaps expecting a more “what-Israel-means-to-me” type speech — responded with silence to the story. But then Lee Gordon, director of the American Friends of Hand in Hand and the bilingual schools’ co-founder, initiated a contagious round of applause. After the talk, he spoke with her about the schools’ efforts at promoting dialogue.

Initially, Winger was skeptical of the educational franchise.

“I thought, ‘Oh, it’s another Jewish school that’s inviting a few Arabs, kumbaya, and, you know, it doesn’t ultimately work,'” she said.

But she accepted Gordon’s invitation and went to Israel with her husband, director and actor Arliss Howard, and their 10-year-old son. Upon touring three of the Hand in Hand schools, Winger’s skepticism softened.

“I used to think I could see the face of a peacemaker,” she said, “but clearly, I’ve been wrong way too much. The [students] look like peacemakers to me. They understand the dilemma in a different way.”

At one point, Winger stopped two children in the yard, and they admitted they didn’t know who she was. They thought she was just some American visitor.

“Do you have any questions for me?” Winger asked.

They stared and smiled.

The students carry on their day as usual in what comes across as a typical elementary school. Teenagers roam the halls in jeans and sneakers, and toddlers storm the yard at recess. At one point, Winger joined the children for folk dancing in the yard.

Several clues hint to the school’s uniqueness. Two languages are spoken: Hebrew and Arabic. Some female teachers wear the traditional Muslim hijabs. Universal messages of love and peace taken from the Torah, the Gospels and the Quran, as well as from great Western thinkers, are printed in Hebrew and Arabic on classroom doors.

The Jerusalem student body is equally diverse — 50 percent Jewish, 40 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. The majority of Arabs are Israeli citizens.

A good portion of the classes are taught by an Arab-Jewish team. The school supplements the state curriculum with programs that attend to the dual nature of the school. From fourth grade on, Jews and Arabs study their respective religious traditions independently.

The Jerusalem branch opened 10 years ago, along with the Galilee branch, followed by new schools in Wadi Ara and Beersheva. The new Jerusalem campus testifies to the growth of the school from a small, first-grade class to a full-fledged day school with 450 children. The school is expanding into high school, and this fall will add a 10th-grade class.

Seventh-graders Areen Nashef, a Muslim, and her Jewish best friend, Yael Keinan, both 12 years old, smiled mischievously when they got called out of class to speak with The Journal. This is not the first time they’ve spoken to the press. Friends since first grade, they often get together outside of school and sleep over at each other’s houses.

“I thought Areen was a Jew when we first met,” said Yael who has long, dirty-blond hair and a pink paper clip dangling from her earring. “After a few days, she told me she was an Arab, and after that it didn’t matter.”

Both are proud for breaking stereotypes of the “other.”

“I went to my cousin who lives in Taibe, up north,” said Areen. “They didn’t know that I study at a bilingual school. They study in Arabic and learn Hebrew because you have to communicate. When I told them I study with a Jew, they asked, ‘What, they didn’t hit you, hurt you?'”

Yael, who describes herself as traditional, has encountered similar suspicions.

“I have a friend who couldn’t believe I had an Arab friend. She saw only what she saw on the news,” Yael said.

Both thoroughly enjoy their studies.

“It’s fun to speak more than one language and also learn another culture,” said Yael.

Speaking in Hebrew, the students have much to say about sensitive issues, particularly politics. Areen described wanting “to feel that Jews were hurt by the Nazis.” On the same note, Yael recalled visiting Arab villages that fell to the Israeli forces during the War of Independence.

“I don’t identify with the Jews or the Palestinians,” said Areen. “I just know you have to have two nations. I think you may need a Jewish state, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of another people.”

OneVoice speaks mistakenly on achieving peace


Again and again, private organizations appear on the scene, promoting agendas designed to advance the peace process in the Middle East. In many cases, their intentions may be good; unfortunately, however, they generally lack a minimal understanding of the situation, and their programs and proposals are based on mistaken assumptions. As a result, their contribution to an easing of the prevailing tension between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is of little or no value.

Let us examine one of these peace efforts.

A recently founded movement that calls itself

Jews and Palestinians talk peace under NorCal pines


When Suleiman al-Khatib told his story at Tawonga’s Peacemakers Camp two years ago, the fact that he had spent 10 years in prison for stabbing an Israeli soldier made him stand out among the participants. He pledged at that time to stay involved with Tawonga, and bring back many more like him.

He didn’t disappoint. Al-Khatib has been Tawonga’s Palestinian representative for the past two years now, and thanks to his efforts, the camp this year hosted many others like him.

The fifth annual Oseh Shalom-Sanea al-Salam Peacemakers Camp is an outgrowth of the Bay Area’s many Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups founded by Len and Libby Traubman of San Mateo. It was held Oct. 5-8, this year with an emphasis on youth and those already working in numerous peace and coexistence organizations. Groups like Combatants for Peace sent representatives, as did the village Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which consists of equal numbers of Arabs and Jews.

The 140 participants also included some Arabs and Jews from the Bay Area, though Jalal Ghazi, a San Franciscan of Palestinian origin, tried unsuccessfully to recruit Arab students from local universities.

“It’s easier bringing Palestinians from over there than from here,” he said.

As in previous years, participants gathered in San Francisco the night after camp ended, this year at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, to tell their stories to the public and each other. And while sharing their stories came fairly easily to those on the podium, it was emphasized that the weekend was not without its difficult moments.

For Israeli Deddy Paz, it served as a reminder that much work needs to be done when he returns home.

For a while, he said, he had abandoned his efforts of working toward peace because more pressing matters were on his mind, mainly paying his mortgage and supporting his family.

But the weekend near Yosemite National Park reminded him “there isn’t another side,” he said.

“The consequences of what’s happening will affect my children just as much as they will affect Raya’s children,” he said, referring to Raya Ziada, a Palestinian woman sitting next to him. “If we keep having Israelis and Palestinians meeting each other for the first time at a checkpoint, we’ll never have a solution. They need to meet each other when they are 4 years old.”

Ziada said her first meeting with Israelis was when soldiers barged into her house in the middle of the night to arrest her father. Her brother is dying in an Israeli jail, she said, and she meets with the other side because “that may be the only chance I have to help save his life.”

Leah Lublin moved to Israel from Toronto 12 years ago. She described herself as a member of a very right-wing organization when she got there, but she had an awakening when friends of her children were killed in a terrorist attack. The mother of five heard about an interfaith dialogue group and mustered up the courage to go.

“The first time I sat with 25 Palestinians, all the misconceptions I had about them flew out the window,” she said. “I became a peace addict.”

Mohammed Atwa, the son of a high-ranking official under Yasser Arafat in the Palestine Liberation Organization, somehow found his way to the Arava Institute in Israel, where he worked on environmental issues with his fellow Arabs and Jews. When he first arrived, he was astonished to learn that his roommate was Jewish. They didn’t speak for the whole first week, and even in that first month, they could only muster up a “good morning.”

“I couldn’t get used to a Jew sleeping next to my bed,” he said.

Now studying for his doctorate in Kansas, Atwa said he believes his mission is to convince anyone who will listen that dialogue and peace is the answer.

“Israel is a fact, you can’t fight it,” he said. “Palestine is a fact, you can’t fight it.”

For more information, visit Peacemaker’s Weekend:
http://www.tawonga.org/weekend-programs/peacemaker.php

Alexandra J. Wall is a correspondent for j., The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.

New Israel Fund renews local presence after four-year hiatus


“People in Israel are so overloaded by big problems, mainly security but also corruption, that it’s easy to disconnect from dealing with social inequities,” said Ronit Heyd, a young Israeli activist.

Heyd, joined by Ilana Litvak, who came to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and Nidal Abed El Gafer, a Palestinian lawyer, were in Los Angeles last week as three “connected” Israelis, working to empower their country’s underprivileged and raise the level of civic involvement.

Their presence at a roundtable was sponsored by the New Israel Fund (NIF), which has just raised its Los Angeles profile by reestablishing a local office, after a four-year hiatus.

Its director is Ellen Barrie Aaronson, long active in the Jewish community and the entertainment industry, most recently as vice president for development at Johnenelly Production, is in the process of setting up the office.

NIF was founded in 1979 to work toward “a more just, equitable and pluralistic state of Israel,” according to its mission statement. NIF helps grass-roots groups, through grants, training and coalition building, to move into the Israeli mainstream. These groups include new immigrants, especially Ethiopians, women’s rights activists, gays, Israeli Arabs and people with disabilities. Since its establishment, NIF has distributed more than $200 million in grants to 800 organizations in Israel.

Shatil (Hebrew for seedling), NIF’s action arm, mentors and trains civic groups to take their fates into their own hands and bring their needs to the attention of government, media and society at large.

In addressing some 80 people at the Beverly Hills Country Club (located in Cheviot Hills), three speakers representing Shatil illustrated their organization’s principles through concrete examples of their work.

Gafer, a graduate of the Tel Aviv University law school, has worked to prevent the demolition of “illegal” Arab homes through court appeals. In another case, he has sought to allow students from inferior Arab schools to attend better Jewish schools.

He has had some success in this “affirmative action” suit, but, he noted, Arab and Jewish students must use the common school playground at separate times.

Heyd worked in northern Israel, heavily shelled during the Lebanon War, when wealthier residents fled south, but the poor stayed behind.

“The Israel government failed to provide shelter and food for those left behind,” Heyd said. “We got grass-roots groups together to demand public hearings on why the government had fouled up.”

Litvak’s main concern is to find ways of boosting Ethiopian and Russian kids, who have great difficulties in keeping up in school.

In a conversation after the meeting, Aviva Sagalovitch Meyer, NIF’s national associate director, said that the Washington, D.C.-based organization has a $25 million annual budget and six branch offices in the United States, four in Israel, and one each in London and Toronto.

Meyer said that about 6 percent of NIF’s general support donors and revenue came from the L. A. area, and she hoped that the establishment of a local office would raise these figures.

Last month, the Ford Foundation renewed a $20 million grant to NIF.

The Los Angeles roundtable was marked by a harmonious atmosphere, in apparent contrast to a similar all-day seminar in New York.

There, according to a JTA report, an Arab speaker, whose organization is supported by NIF, regretted that his fellow Palestinians didn’t take up arms to fight the denial of their rights by “Israeli occupiers.”

Another Israeli Arab, a law professor at Hebrew University, called for a change in Israel’s flag and national anthem.

It is NIF’s support of Arab groups, such as those represented by the two speakers, that raise the hackles of critics. One opponent cited is Gerald Steinberg, director of NGO Monitor, a hawkish pro-Israel watchdog organization.

Referring to the remarks of the two speakers, Steinberg said, “This is not about making Israel a better society; it’s about denying the legitimacy of Israel to exist.”

In response, Larry Garber, NIF’s CEO, said that his organization would continue to fund Arab rights groups, even if they say or do things with which the NIF doesn’t quite agree.

Meyer, NIF’s associate director, added, “When you join a group, not everything is going to be something you like; you support the broad position. You don’t expect to agree with every position.”

Eliezer Ya’ari, who heads NIF’s operations in Israel, said that differences between NIF and its critics come down to a matter of ideology. On one side are those, in Israel and the Diaspora, who see Israel as a Middle Eastern country of all its citizens, as against those more interested in preserving the Jewish nature of the state, even at the expense of democratic principles.

“The challenge in the next 60 years,” he said, “is making Israel a part of the Middle East.”

For more information on the New Israel Fund, call (310) 566-6367. For more information on NIF, e-mail eaaronson@nif.org.

JTA associate editor Uriel Heilman contributed to this article.

Teens Find Peace On and Off Stage


“We don’t care about politics; we just like each other,” says Shira Ben Yaakov, a cheerful brunette who is an eighth-grade student at Tel Aviv’s A.D. Gordon Junior High School.

Ben Yaakov is referring to Israeli-Arab friends she has met through the Peace Child Israel drama group, which meets weekly, alternating between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The group consists of 20 Arab and Jewish teens from Jaffa and Tel Aviv, proof that friendship between Jews and Arabs can exist, even in post-Intifada Israel.

“Even though Arabs live close to me, I have never had the chance to get to know them. I have always been afraid of Arabs as a group and now I know this fear has been unjustified,” Ben Yaakov says.

Maya Smolian, another member of the group, says she was “thrilled” to meet Arab kids her age. Having the opportunity to perform together is just another incentive to be a part of the group.

Peace Child Israel was founded in 1988 by the late Israeli actress Yael Drouyanoff and uses theater and other art forms to encourage dialogue between teens who might otherwise never meet. So far, seven groups have been formed, pairing Jewish and Arab towns throughout Israel, among them Misgav-Sakhnin, Raanana-Qalanswa, and East and West Jerusalem.

In January, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa group toured the United States, visiting Philadelphia and communities throughout New Jersey. Their hosts were Jewish families in each of the cities, as well as students from Changing Our World (COW), a teen drama and arts group with similar methods and objectives. Students from the two countries bonded quickly.

Deb Chamberlin, a singer, songwriter and co-director of COW, initiated the venture. She contacted Peace Child after two visits to Israel, where she was touched by the country and its people.

“I looked to cooperate with a group similar to my own. Once I heard about Peace Child, I knew this was the group I was looking for,” she says. “When I returned to the States, I looked to share my feelings with other people, [to] let them know what Israel is all about.”

Chamberlin wrote Peace Child’s new anthem “The Time Has Come for Peace,” which the group sang on a Philadelphia television morning show and then subsequently recorded with help from some local singers.

“We made a beautiful CD and now wish to promote this anthem as a song for global tolerance and peace,” Chamberlin says.

The group’s original musical, “On the Other Side,” was also adapted for American audiences and has been performed in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The play is inspired by the students’ personal experiences in their native Israel and addresses the sensitive issue of Israel’s security fence from the teens’ point of view. The two groups found they share many of the same challenges in overcoming barriers between cultures.

“The COW group brings together students from different backgrounds,” Chamberlin explains. “Our group consists of Latin, Afro-American and Jewish students; they study in a public school of 3,000 students, most of whom are white Christian Americans. Before meeting with Peace Child, the students would usually socialize with their ‘own kind.’ When they witnessed the beautiful friendships that exist between the Jewish and Arab members of Peace Child, they realized what they were missing. As a matter of fact, many stereotypes were broken on that tour.”

“During one of our workshops, Hiba Salila an Arab student, admitted that before coming on the tour, she was convinced the Americans would prefer the Jewish students to the Arab ones,” Chamberlain says. “It surprised her when they didn’t. Another Jewish student says COW students form a bridge between Arab and Jewish students with their love for us.”

Language was not a barrier. “Though the Jewish kids had better English, the Arab students compensated with their Spanish, so they could all communicate,” Chamberlin says. “On the bus from Washington to northern New Jersey, the students cried because it was their last journey together. We promised to keep in touch and start making arrangements for our visit to Israel. The hosting families intend to help me found ‘The American Friends of Peace Child’. Knowing there are more people willing to work for the success of this project was quite a relief for me. I delivered this baby but now a whole new future awaits it.”

The 10-day tour culminated at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where groups of American teens joined Peace Child along with an appreciative audience of 500.

“People were deeply touched by the show,” says Melisse Lewine-Boskowich, director of Peace Child, who noted that North Star, an African American teen group, and Intellectual Journey, a band of Jewish and Arab musicians working in the U.S., joined them on stage. “The tour opened many … opportunities for us and now the sky’s our limit.”

” target=”_blank”>http://www.thecowproject.com/

Sima Borkovski is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem.

 

A Mitzvah Is Its Arab-Israeli Enmity Vanishes at Hospital


After exhausting the capabilities of Palestinian hospitals in Jenin and Nazareth, the mother of a 4-year-old boy with stomach cancer learned that his best chance for survival lay beyond the Green Line at Afula’s Emek Medical Center, about 10 miles from Jenin.

Quelling her own fear of becoming a target of Jewish hostility, because of the intifada, Samera permitted doctors to quietly arrange for her son, Halid, to be admitted to Emek’s pediatric oncology unit. While the rest of her family remained in Jenin, she lived in Nazareth for six months in housing arranged by one of Emek’s Arab staff members.

"She was received with compassion and warmth," said Larry Rich, Emek’s development director, who spoke with mother and son before the patient’s release last year.

"Halid, do you know your doctor is a Jew?" Rich recalled asking. "He said, ‘He’s a good man.’"

The grateful mother embraced Rich.

"It made my heart swell," he said in an interview during a recent trip to the United States.

To avoid being branded as a collaborator, most Palestinians would not admit to accepting aid from Israel. Samera bravely told her story to A-Sinara, the largest Arabic-language newspaper in the region. Her experience "was diametrically opposed to everything she’d been told," Rich said.

Yet, not even a small child is free of politics in a nation where every joy seems superseded by bitterness. When Halid’s condition worsened, Samera’s return was forbidden, according to Rich. The boy died earlier this year.

The 435-bed Emek hospital is a remarkable example of Arab-Israeli cooperation in the bitterly divided Middle East. Even so, because of its proximity to terrorist activity, its emergency room has swarmed with bombing casualties, and several among its staff have suffered disabling injuries from suicide attacks.

The hospital’s staff, about an 80-20 mix of Jews and Arabs, closely mirrors Israel’s population, where 1.1 million Israeli Arabs make up 18 percent of the nation. But the hospital’s patient population is a more diverse 50-50, where Jew and Arab often are roommates.

"Something magical happens here," said Rich, when families visiting at bedside drop their guard and commiserate together. "People begin to talk. The horns melt away. There’s no difference between them."

"We don’t represent the solution to the Middle East, but we are an example, a living philosophy of coexistence through medicine," Rich said.

Emek’s Detroit-born development director is taking on a quixotic challenge: trying to shine a light on the hospital’s good work by sharing its story with the American Jewish community, as well as the American Muslim community. His aim is to loosen purse strings and puncture stereotypes hardened on both sides by enmity over endless bloodshed.

The medical center has treated more than 800 victims of terror since the second intifada began in September 2000. Its emergency room treats more than 130,000 people annually.

Yet, anemic funding of Israel’s national health-care system has forced Emek to curb elective surgeries, hiring and research. Israel’s depressed economy has made more daunting a $100 million growth plan to add 12 operating rooms to Emek. The facility is one of 14 hospitals operated by Clalit Health Services, an HMO with 3.6 million members.

"Our current surgical facilities cannot cope efficiently with the normal caseload of a growing population," wrote Orna Blondheim, Emek’s director, in a pitch to potential donors.

On his first fund-raising trip to the United States and Canada that began in April, Rich spent six weeks going to 28 cities to describe the work of Emek’s 250 physicians and 600 nurses. In Irvine, about 75 people heard him on May 26 at an event organized by the Beth Jacob Congregation.

Rich realizes he faces a forbidding rival in the fund-raising machine of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. In 2002, the group raised $53 million divvied up among six major projects. They include its best known, the Hadassah Medical Organization, comprised of two medical facilities in Israel — the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem and the Hadassah University Hospital at Mount Scopus.

In Orange County, Rich’s sponsor was Tim Timmons of San Clemente, a one-time seminary student who has visited Israel 30 times and makes his living as a motivational speaker. Using his own Rolodex, Timmons tried to assist Rich line up speaking engagements.

"He’s not getting the response from Jewish organizations," said Timmons, who suggested he contact a Lebanese-born friend with political connections.

"I was warned not to overplay the coexistence message," Rich said. "I thought about it. I’m not going to buy into it."

View on Mideast ‘Embarrassing’


Recently former President Jimmy Carter spoke out about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as he visited Texas. He spoke of U.S. bias toward Israel, of Arab animosity toward the United States, because of a lack of progress in the peace process and he focused his criticism on the Israeli settlement policy.

His remarks were embarrassing.

It’s difficult, as a former supporter of Carter, to make this statement. It’s difficult to be so critical of a man who in so many aspects of his public life has been a role model.

Yet when a public figure takes positions that are so out of synch with objective fact and reality, even former supporters in the Democratic Party need to speak up.

This is not the first time in recent years that Carter has made his own biased view of the conflict public. Just last year at the ceremony marking the signing of the Yossi Beilin-Yasser Abed Rabbo Geneva initiative, Carter mentioned Palestinian terrorism in passing but left the strong impression that the bulk of the blame for a stalled peace process rests with Israeli "colonization" of Gaza and the West Bank.

In Texas, the ex-president went further. First, he linked animosity in the Arab world toward the United States to the lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue. This is like linking Arab animosity toward the United States with the sun rising every morning.

Yes, our support for Israel’s security creates difficulties for us in the Arab world. But no, Arab animosity toward the United States is far from simply a function of U.S.-Israel friendship.

Moreover, perhaps for a clear majority in the Arab world — and a clear majority of Palestinians today — nothing short of American support for Israel’s disappearance would suffice.

Finally, as the vast number of foreign policy advisers in both parties would agree, the No. 1 — though not the only — roadblock to progress on the peace process is the failure of any Palestinian leadership to stop the violence and negotiate a compromise agreement in good faith.

Carter also criticized the current administration for always supporting the Sharon government and contrasted that stand with the more "balanced" record of past administrations. Here, too, Carter is simply wrong.

Israeli government decisions may not always be deserving of U.S. support, and the Bush Administration has publicly criticized many of those decisions — witness President Bush’s remarks in the heat of the second intifada in April 2002 and last years’ open pressure on Israel to change the course of the security fence. The Bush administration is also the first American administration to forthrightly endorse a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Finally, Carter returned to the issue of settlement policy in again criticizing the Bush administration for its lack of balance. This is like criticizing the United States for not being balanced because it sided with Czechoslovakia not Germany during the Munich crisis of 1938.

In the end, what makes the Carter analysis of the Middle East crisis so embarrassing is its absolute lack of fairness. The former president totally ignores the history of the 2000 Camp David negotiations and the subsequent White House meetings of January 2001, when he places the lion’s share of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Israel. Carter seems to be oblivious to the clear history of Yasser Arafat’s duplicity, and his support for the most odious forms of terror.

When he is being most "fair," our ex-president seems to equate Israeli retaliation with the most savage of Palestinian terrorism against women and children. He appears to choose to ignore the viciousness of the total rejection of Israel’s right to exist — under any circumstances — by not just Hamas but much of the rest of the Palestinian current political universe

Carter, how could you be so blind? No, Israel is not always right. But how could your analysis of the root causes of this conflict so ignore the dysfunctional nature of much of Palestinian nationalism?

Democrats like myself are not anxious to criticize our ex-president in such blunt terms.

It saddens us to publicly criticize the views of a man who clearly cares deeply about his country and the importance of public service. But to fail to do so may leave the impression that he speaks for the Democratic Party. He does not.

And his positions on this issue stand in direct contradiction to our last four presidential nominees, as well as our current presumptive nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass).

Targeted Killings’ Other Casualties


Killing Hamas leaders wounds the terrorist group, Israeli and Palestinian officials agree. At question is whether moderate Palestinians — and U.S. influence in the region — are also casualties of Israel’s targeted strikes.

Israel has killed at least 11 leaders of Hamas since the group claimed responsibility for a deadly Jerusalem bus bombing on Aug. 19, which killed 21 people, including at least five children.

Israel declared "all-out war" against the group after the bus bombing.

The new frequency of the killings — and the targeting of political as well as military leaders — have led some to wonder whether the Bush administration’s "road map" peace plan, which envisions an end to terrorism and a Palestinian state within three years, is still viable.

"It has a serious effect on the Hamas leadership, on the one hand," Edward Abington, a former U.S. diplomat who now lobbies for the Palestinians in Washington, said of the killings.

On the other hand, he said, "it undermines U.S. credibility on the road map."

Abington said the killings would shift moderate Arab regimes — key to the Bush administration’s plans not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for Iraq — away from support for the United States.

"Israel is assassinating left and right, and the appearance is that the United States is acquiescing," Abington said.

The lack of moderate Arab support in 2000 helped scuttle the Camp David talks when Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat refused to take painful steps — such as conceding parts of Jerusalem — knowing he would be on his own.

Israelis say that defeating Hamas ultimately could remove the extremist yoke that has held back the Palestinian leadership until now.

"Hamas has no interest in any political solution," said Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "Israel would have preferred the Palestinian Authority to handle Hamas, but they have consistently refused to meet their road map responsibilities and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

In any case, the Hamas attacks — and Israeli retaliation — may mean that the United States fundamentally has to reassess its policies in the region.

"American policy is now in a shambles, the road map no longer seems viable, the cease-fire is in tatters," said Nathan Brown, a Middle East expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

If the United States has problems with the intensity of Israel’s reaction, its public expressions have been muted at best.

"Israel has a right to defend herself, but Israel needs to take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said after Israel killed top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab in a rocket attack on Aug. 21.

Shanab was a political leader who helped broker the recent cease-fire, signed onto by the main Palestinian terrorist groups, which led to a brief period of calm. His killing came just two months after Israel attempted to kill Hamas spokesman and senior member Abdel Aziz Rantissi.

Any American attempt to distinguish between political and military leaders runs the risk of hypocrisy, said Matthew Levitt, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"We don’t make a distinction between Osama bin Laden and his foot soldiers, even though bin Laden is not the trigger puller," Levitt said. "Those who commit acts of terrorism and those who order them carried out are just as culpable."

Gold said that political leaders and spokesmen serve the same tactical ends as bombmakers.

"Israel does not accept the argument that there is a difference between the political and military wings of Hamas," he said. "The U.S. used to be very concerned when Al Qaeda spokesmen would appear on Al-Jazeera because they could have had operational messages mixed into their language. The same is true for Hamas spokesmen like Rantissi."

Targeting political leaders is not new: Israel made no distinctions between political and military officials in its famous action against Black September after the killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Still, Israel’s recent intensity against Hamas is unprecedented in the way it has confronted the 3-year-old intifada.

Levitt, a former FBI analyst, said there is a tactical advantage to maintaining the intensity of the attacks.

"Having a situation in which all of Hamas has to go underground, moving it from desktops to laptops, is a significant blow to its ability to carry out operations," he said.

Abington agreed that is true in the short term — but is worried that ultimately the targeted killings would only reinforce the militant group.

"It undermines Abu Mazen," Abington said, using the popular name for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

"One reason he has been reluctant to take moves against Hamas is because he thinks the Palestinian street does not support him. Assassinations only inflame support for Hamas."

It was a point echoed by Brown,

"From the Israeli perspective, it’s clear that suicide bombing depends first on capability, and also on a social environment that makes it possible," Brown said. "Assassination targets the first, but makes the second worse."

Still, Brown said, "It strikes me that the killings are motivated by the lack of other options."

Terrorists in Old City


Since the intifada began two years ago, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert had boasted that Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem had opted to stay out of the violence for fear of losing Israeli social service benefits.

With the recent arrest of an East Jerusalem terrorist cell deemed responsible for several recent attacks — including the July 31 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria that killed nine people — Israelis have been asking: Arabs in East Jerusalem, too?

The discovery of the cell nearly coincided with a survey by the prestigious Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies that reported alarming figures concerning the standard of living in Jerusalem’s Old City and raised questions about 35 years of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem.

Unlike Israeli Arabs, most Arab residents of East Jerusalem who came under Israeli rule following the 1967 Six-Day War do not carry Israeli citizenship. They are not entitled to Israeli passports, are not entitled to vote and cannot be elected to national bodies. They are eligible to vote in municipal elections, though most of them choose — with help from Palestinian groups — not to, so as not to legitimize Israeli rule in the city.

Still, they do have Israeli identity cards, which allow them free movement throughout Israel and relatively free movement in and out of the West Bank — freedom that the terrorist gang allegedly put to bloody use.

Most important, Arabs in East Jerusalem are entitled to the range of social benefits available to all Israelis, such as national health insurance, unemployment payments, minimum wage benefits, child allowances and other social security benefits.

It was access to such services that Olmert figured would deter residents of East Jerusalem from joining the Palestinian campaign of terror — a calculation that authorities now say was tragically wrong.

True, the level of terrorism emanating from East Jerusalem has been low, in comparison with terrorism from the adjacent West Bank. Far fewer Israelis and tourists visit the Old City today than in past years, and very few hostile acts have been carried out against them.

But the hatred is still there.

The merchants in front of their empty souvenir stalls on David Street look at the few Israelis who dare to enter the Old City walls — mostly religious Jews on their way to the Western Wall or other sites in the Jewish Quarter — with sad and angry eyes.

"Why don’t you understand? We don’t want you here," said tour guide Ali Jadda, who spent 17 years in Israeli jails for throwing a grenade in the western part of the city, wounding nine Israelis. "You are welcome as tourists, but as occupiers, you are not wanted here."

That is the story in a nutshell: Many Jerusalem Arabs see the Jews as occupiers.

In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Arab soldiers forced the Jews from the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, ending a presence dating back centuries. In the ensuing 20 years of Jordanian occupation, evidence of Jewish history was systematically destroyed.

In 1967, Israel, after being attacked by Jordan, conquered the Jewish Quarter and the other parts of East Jerusalem. The conquered parts were annexed to Israel, but — fearful of changing the country’s demographic balance — the inhabitants were not offered citizenship.

Thus, just as the Arabs do not want the Jews in Jerusalem, many would say that the Israeli authorities do not regard the city’s 220,000 Arabs as equal partners.

The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies report showed the poor living conditions in the Old City. With some 280 people per acre, it is one of the most crowded places on earth. The population has grown rapidly since the unification of the city in 1967, due both to natural growth and the illegal immigration of Arabs from the West Bank who wanted to enjoy Israeli social service benefits.

Israeli authorities could not cope with the phenomenon: They lacked the space, budget and tools to provide the Arab population with modern housing inside the Old City walls.

Providing alternative housing would be too costly — and would go against the Palestinians’ nationalist credo. The result: burgeoning illegal construction, with rooms crowding on top of each other and basements turned into living quarters. Some 25 percent of the apartments in the Muslim Quarter have no shower, and a number of families often will share the same toilet.

Some Jewish families also are moving into the Muslim Quarter, living in homes purchased from Arab owners in roundabout ways. Under the guidance of the Ateret Cohanim settlers’ organization, these Jews hope one day to outnumber Arabs in the Old City.

The Jewish families live under heavy protection: Surveillance cameras transmit images of people approaching the Jewish residences to Old City police headquarters, and armed guards respond to knocks on the doors.

Some 6,000 families, or about 35,000 people, live in the Old City. Of these, 68 percent are Muslims; 24 percent, Christians; and 8 percent, Jews.

Umm Raed, who lives in a shabby apartment in the Old City and suffers from diabetes, receives a regular unemployment allowance from the Israeli government. That’s enough of an incentive to make sure none of her nine children join Hamas.

But, given the heavily politicized atmosphere and the incitement by Palestinian Authority agents, economic incentives aren’t enough to win Israel much loyalty from Jerusalem’s Arabs.

Hawks like Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau and his deputy, Gideon Ezra, say the cell’s capture shows that anti-Israel feelings are endemic in the Palestinian population, regardless of their social and economic condition. The fact that the cell members received Israeli social benefits and worked in Israel proves it is not poverty that causes terrorism, they say.

Some are looking beyond last week’s news to possible political solutions. The Jerusalem Institute study offers at eight alternative solutions to the conflict.

Ruth Lapidot, a law professor who chaired the report team, prefers one of them: Both Israel and the Palestinians relinquish sovereignty claims in the Old City and try to reach a functional agreement on running the holy area.

Israel has been open to various compromise proposals, but the Palestinian Authority insists on full sovereignty over all Arab neighborhoods and denies that the Jews have any connection to the Temple Mount, the Old City’s crown jewel and the holiest site in Judaism.

There Is No ‘Occupation’


Arab spokesmen regularly complain about what they call "the Israeli occupation" of the Judea-Samaria-Gaza territories. But the truth is that there is no such "Israeli occupation."

To begin with, nearly all Palestinian Arabs currently live under Yasser Arafat’s rule, not Israel’s. Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5 percent of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under Israeli occupation is false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the two percent where Israelis reside.

The term "occupation" is also used to indicate that Israel has no right to any presence in Judea-Samaria-Gaza or the Old City section of Jerusalem, and that the Israeli presence in any of those areas constitutes illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land. In fact, Israel has the strongest religious, historical and legal claim to this land.

The territories of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem were integral parts of the Jewish kingdoms throughout the biblical eras and are explicitly mandated by the Hebrew Bible as part of the land of Israel. These lands were Jewish thousands years ago under King David, King Solomon and other Jewish rulers.

Can anyone name a Palestinian Arab king who ever ruled over Palestine? No, because there never was one.

All of the most important Jewish religious sites are situated in those territories. The very name "Judea" — a term which was commonly used by the international community throughout all the centuries until the Jordanian occupation in 1949 — is derived from the same root as the word "Jew," testifying to the deep Jewish connection to the land.

The reason Jews are called "Jews" is because we come from Judea. This historical-religious right was the basis for the League of Nations decision in 1922 to endorse the Jewish people’s right to all of the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan River.

From the standpoint of international law, it is important to note that prior to 1967, there was no other recognized sovereign power in the territories. Israel’s capture of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 did not constitute an illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land, because prior to 1967, there was no legal or recognized sovereign power there.

The Jordanian occupation of Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem during 1949-1967 was illegal, having been carried out in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. The only countries in the world to recognize it were Pakistan and (in part) England.

Furthermore, Israel captured the territories in self-defense. Israel took over Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in self-defense, in response to aggression by Jordan and Egypt in June 1967. Had Jordan not invaded Israel — ignoring pleas by Israel to stay out of the war — Israel would not control Judea and Samaria today.

As Stephen Schwebel, a former U.S. State Department legal adviser and former head of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, has written: "Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has against that prior holder better title."

It is also significant that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw "from territories" captured in 1967, but the authors of the resolution deliberately left out the word "the" before "territories" because it was their conviction — as articulated by then-British Foreign Secretary George Brown — "that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories." The Soviets tried to insert "the," but that effort was specifically rejected so as not to suggest that Israel is obliged to surrender all of the territories.

Finally, it should also be noted that the Oslo accords recognize Israel’s right to remain in the territories, at least until a final settlement is reached. The accords accept Israel’s presence in the territories, at least until an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement on the final status of those areas is reached.

Chapter Two, Article X, Clause Four specifically recognizes that in the disputed territories, "Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order" until a final accord is reached. Furthermore, the Oslo accords do not require Israel to dismantle any of the Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria-Gaza — in effect, an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to maintain those communities, at least until a final agreement is reached.

In short, the notion that there is an illegal Israeli "occupation" is a myth.


Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Hard Talk


I have written about Yitzhak Frankenthal before, and I will no doubt write about him again, because the man has the gravitas to say just about whatever he wants about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

Frankenthal is one of a distinct minority of Israelis and Arabs these days who are engaged in dialogue with their political adversaries.

The last time I wrote about Frankenthal was to tell how the father of a son murdered by a Palestinian terrorist had become Israel’s most eloquent spokesperson for peace. On July 7, 1994, the body of Arik, Frankenthal’s 19-year-old son, was found dumped in a village near Ramallah, riddled with bullet holes and stab wounds. Arik, an IDF soldier and an Orthodox Jew, had been hitchhiking home on leave when he was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists.

Before his murder, Arik had been drawn to the nascent religious Zionist peace movement. He had spoken to his father about Oz V’Shalom/Netivot Shalom, a group that maintains that halacha (Jewish law) requires Israel to compromise with the Palestinians. One month after his son’s death, Frankenthal dissolved his business interests and threw his considerable energies behind Oz V’Shalom — eventually becoming its executive director.

Frankenthal’s authority doesn’t rely solely on tragedy. He is also an Orthodox Jew, a Zionist, a successful Israeli entrepreneur and politically connected. Many readers will be shocked by his statements; few have his credentials.

Last week, Frankenthal came to Los Angeles to raise awareness of his newest project, Parents’ Circle. This is a group of 190 Israeli and 140 Palestinian parents who have lost their children to acts of terror or violence and who have made the commitment to work together in building a consensus for peace.

The European Union gave $450,000 to the group, and it received $1.1 million as part of the Wye River Agreement. The Mitchell Report, not a document full of bright spots, actually singles out Parents’ Circle as one of two cooperative projects doing very important work (the other is the Economic Cooperation Foundation) toward alleviating suffering in the region.

Frankenthal told me that bereaved Palestinian and Israeli parents are meeting “more than ever” to discuss their feelings and differences over the Mideast crisis. The meetings are brutally honest and difficult.

Though the Israeli left is reeling from the backlash against rapprochement, some groups, such as Peace Now, Hand in Hand and Parents’ Circle, forge ahead with dialogue. At the start of Intifada II, Palestinian nonprofit organizations pulled out of Peace Now’s Youth Dialogue Program, which brought together Arab and Jewish teenagers at schools throughout the country. But, according to Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now, the group was recently asked to resume dialogue by the largest youth movement in the West Bank, the Nablus Youth Movement. Frankenthal said the point of his group is not to provide healing or closure — he cringes when I speak the words — but to bring about reconciliation. “We cannot forgive them, and they cannot forgive us,” he said. “We are not doing it for us. We are doing it for our people.”

At a meeting in Gaza, a Palestinian father stood up and told Frankenthal, “As a father, I’m sorry you lost your son. But as a Palestinian, I need to tell you I’m happy we killed him, because he was in the army.” Frankenthal rose from his seat. “As a father,” he began, his voice trembling, “I want to pick up this desk and throw it at you. But as an Israeli, I will tell you a story about my son.”

Frankenthal then related how he had once asked Arik what he would do if he were a Palestinian. Arik said he would kill as many Israeli soldiers as possible. “A week later,” Frankenthal said, “he was killed himself.

“Look,” Frankenthal continued, “it’s not easy to sit and talk, but we understand each other. We have both lost kids, and we are not looking for revenge…. There is no question there will be peace between us and the Palestinians; the question is, how many people will die before we make peace?”

Frankenthal said he has come to understand that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak could have sealed a deal with Yasser Arafat by offering the Palestinians de jure sovereignty over the Temple Mount, where they already have de facto rule, in return for Arafat’s forgoing the right of return for Palestinian refugees. “He wanted to buy an $80 watch from Arafat for $60,” Frankenthal explained. If Barak had offered the whole $80, Frankenthal believes, Intifada II could have been averted.

That is a minority opinion in almost all Israeli and Jewish circles, but Frankenthal promotes it fearlessly. “The hardest part for me is to stand in front of my son’s grave,” he told me. “Everything else is small change.”

Parents’ Circle has created a brochure in Hebrew, English and Arabic outlining its views, and intends to distribute it to hundreds of thousands of Jews and Arabs.

When I told Frankenthal about our cover story this week — how Jews and Arab leaders in Los Angeles have alternately suspended their participation in dialogue with one another — Frankenthal waves away their concerns. He has no patience for those on either side who see the current conflict as a reason to suspend dialogue. “Go the opposite way,” he stressed. “Don’t let Hamas win. You need to fight against terrorism and talk. That’s what Rabin said.”

You can learn more about Parents’ Circle by writing to frankent@netvision.net.il .

Stopped Talks


The headlines in the Los Angeles Times track the fever chart of relations between the city’s large Jewish and Muslim communities:

“Arabs, Jews [in L.A.] Hoping Peace Will Blossom” (Jan. 22, 1988).

“Terrorism in Israel Strains Muslim-Jewish Ties in L.A.” (March 25, 1996).

“Jews, Muslims Agree About Disagreeing” (Nov. 30, 1988).

“Muslims, Jews Set to Unveil Code for Debate” (December, 6 1999).

And currently:

“Muslim-Jewish Group Breaks Off Dialogue” (June 6, 2001).

“Jewish-Muslim Group to Resume Dialogue” (June 19, 2001).

These days, the dialogue is on hold — though once again organizers are trying to revive what’s left of years of intermittent effort.

Attempts at creating a viable relationship between representatives of some 600,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims in Southern California go back almost as far as the 1948-49 war between Israelis and Arabs, and, as the headlines show, have reflected the fortunes of peace and war in the Middle East.

The parallel is not as self-evident as it seems. Time and time again, Jewish and Muslim/Arab leaders here have vowed to concentrate on such local issues as ethnic discrimination and interreligious ties, and to ignore the intractable and divisive conflicts of the Middle East.

Even now, as local leaders seek to repair the break in the dialogue, the talk is again about emphasizing educational and youth programs and fighting hate crimes.

The domestic-issues approach has its defenders and successes, if only in preventing a complete breakdown in communications between the two communities, or even outright confrontations.

But looking at the record over decades, Jewish and Muslim Angelenos have not been able to escape the impact of events in the Middle East.

“Originally, we tried to concentrate on concerns close to home, but we soon realized that we couldn’t ignore the elephant in the living room,” says Rabbi Allen Freehling of University Synagogue, spokesman for a group of progressive colleagues who have been a mainstay of the various dialogues.

Rabbi James Rudin, for decades the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) national point man for interreligious affairs, observed in a 1996 interview: “The state of encounter [in the United States] is almost in direct proportion to the situation in the Middle East.

“If there is real movement on both sides [in the Middle East], the fever drops and there is movement here. When you have a terrorist bombing or a Jew shooting Muslims at prayer … there is a cessation of contact, or strained and awkward contact.”

Even Rabbi Alfred Wolf, considered the progenitor of Jewish-Muslim relations in Los Angeles, acknowledges the problem.

“In the early 1970s,” he recalled in a later interview, “we had a very good dialogue going, which was terminated by the 1973 Yom Kippur War.”

Wolf was the first in a continuing line of Wilshire Boulevard Temple rabbis to initiate contacts with Muslim religious leaders. Largely at his initiative, Muslims were invited in the late 1940s to join Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergy in the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California.

The following years and decades were marked by a succession of often bewildering groupings, working for Jewish-Muslim understanding.

In the 1960s and ’70s, they included such established organizations as the AJC, American Jewish Congress, National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the American Friends Service Committee.

The 1980s were a particularly fruitful decade, with the establishment of such groups as the Foundation for Middle East Communication, catalyzed by Beverly Hills attorney Michael Lame and the late TV producer Zev Putterman.

A successor group was the Middle East Cousins Club of America, which, in one well-publicized event, planted two olive trees adjacent to City Hall.

“Side by side we plant these trees, and side by side our peoples will flourish,” intoned the master of ceremonies, radio and television host Casey Kasem, for years an active Arab member of various dialogues.

By 1987, a Los Angeles Times report estimated that some 60 dialogue groups were operating throughout the United States.

Another period of cooperation occurred, somewhat ironically, during the 1990-91 Gulf War, when The Jewish Federation, Anti-Defamation League and AJC publicly protested government harassment of Arab Americans.

The famous 1993 handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn triggered another spurt in Muslim-Jewish joint talks and ventures.

One was Builders for Peace, a high-level effort to mobilize Jewish and Arab capital and know-how in the United States to build up the economy of the West Bank and Gaza, but which foundered after a couple of years.

The most recent incarnation has been the Jewish-Muslim Dialogue, which in December 1999, forged a well-publicized code of ethics. It bound some 80 signatories to denounce all terrorism and hate crimes, promote civil dialogue, and avoid mutual stereotyping and incitement.

In the last 50 years, an impressive array of men and women have devoted themselves to bettering Muslim-Jewish relations. Some have stayed the course, while others became burned out or moved on to other causes.

On the Muslim/Arab side, the senior representative and one of the two key players has been Dr. Maher Hathout, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California. The Egyptian-born physician has devoted himself to relations with the Jewish community, from almost the moment he arrived in Los Angeles in 1971. His partner is Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Born in Iraq, Al-Marayati is media-savvy, the focus of frequent controversies and the most visible Arab figure in Los Angeles.

Don Bustany was a leading Arab spokesman in the 1980s and early ’90s. He helped form the Arab-Jewish Speakers Bureau, whose mixed teams spoke frequently at synagogues and, to a lesser extent, at churches and mosques.

On the Jewish side, following in Wolf’s footsteps, has been a group of predominantly liberal and Reform rabbis, including Freehling, Leonard Beerman of Leo Baeck Temple, Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Chaim Seidler-Feller of the UCLA Hillel Council, Harvey J. Fields and Steven Z. Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, and Steven B. Jacobs of Kol Tikvah.

An early lay voice was that of Susan Weissman, an attorney and mediator, who in the early 1980s formed her own dialogue group, consisting initially of 15 Jews and two or three Arabs.

Gradually, more Arabs joined, while Jews dropped out, because “they had come thinking they would set the Arabs straight, but they didn’t get that,” Weissman observes.

Like some other activists, she discontinued her intensive involvement after the 1993 Rabin-Arafat handshake, mainly in the optimistic belief that her mission had been accomplished.

A recent effort off the beaten track is the Open Tent Middle East Coalition, which sponsors joint Arab-Jewish cultural events and discussions. It was founded by Jordan Elgrably, a Sephardi community activist who faults the Jewish community for lack of self-criticism and failure to acknowledge Arab grievances.

Elgrably, sounding a not-uncommon note of frustration, likens the job of dialogue facilitator to that of King Sisyphus of Greek mythology, who was condemned to forever roll a heavy stone uphill, only to see it tumble down again as soon as it reached the peak.

One of the main current activists is Arthur Stern, a Holocaust survivor who after a brilliant engineering and business career in the United States, has turned his considerable talent and energy to Jewish community causes.

The role of The Jewish Federation, the official voice of organized L.A. Jewry, has been generally cautious and somewhat ambivalent.

Its rabbinical arm, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, has maintained a hands-off policy vis-a-vis Jewish-Arab dialogues.

“We have members on the far left and far right,” notes Rabbi Lawrence Goldmark, the board’s former president and acting director. “We could not function if we had to deal with controversial issues that could cause us to implode.”

The Federation’s main arm in working with other ethnic and religious groups is its Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC). During his 1985-1995 tenure as JCRC director, there were “sporadic moments of engagement,” recalls Dr. Steven Windmueller.

A few years later, the JCRC formally joined the ongoing Jewish-Muslim Dialogue in December 1999, after the latter had promulgated its code of ethics.

Elaine Albert, now the JCRC’s associate director, attended monthly meetings of the group until March of this year, when JCRC withdrew.

The reasons given for the withdrawal by Albert and JCRC Executive Director Michael Hirschfeld were an internal restructuring of the JCRC, escalating terrorism in the Middle East, and the imbalance of Jewish to Muslim representation at meetings and retreats.

The latter point is frequently mentioned by critics of the dialogue, where Jewish participants not uncommonly outnumber Muslims and Arabs by a ratio of 6 to 1 or 10 to 1.

One prominent mainstream Jewish community leader, who asked not to be identified, said: “We are constantly meeting with the same two or three Arab professionals, always Hathout and Al-Marayati, who say one thing to us and another when they talk to their own groups.

“Where are the Arab lay or religious leaders? Are these two men really leaders in their community? When The Jewish Federation speaks, it represents 50,000 Jews. But who do they represent?”

The most outspoken mainstream critic of the dialogue is Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the AJC.

Greenebaum says he worked with the Islam Center and the Muslim Public Affairs Council between 1990 and 1995, but then concluded that neither organization “has been operating in an open, honest way since the Oslo accords. At some point, their MO changed from interest in interreligious work to political activism.”

Greenebaum believes that in the last few years, the local Muslim community has become more fundamentalist, with accompanying intimidation of middle-of-the-road groups.

Al-Marayati responds to one point of the criticism by saying that the Jewish leaders themselves have failed to reach out to other organizations within the Muslim community.

He adds, “We are much less organized and structured than the Jewish community, to begin with. The few leaders who are willing and able to devote the time and effort to dialogues — including Aslam Abdullah, editor of the Minaret, and Muzzammil Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Society of North America and its Orange County chapter — are overwhelmed by demands on their time.”

Other members of the Arab community, as well as Jewish dialogue participants, warmly defend the two men.

“Dr. Hathout and Salam are best equipped to speak for the Arab and Muslim communities,” says Kasem. “They are both very honest and able.”

Another point of contention, this one mainly intra-Arab, is whether a dialogue with the Jews should be led by a Muslim or specifically Arab organization.

The point is important because, for one, the local Arab population is about evenly split between Christians and Muslims. For another, Arabs represent only a minority within the Muslim community, being outnumbered by immigrants from Southeast Asia and by African American converts.

“The conflict in the Middle East is at the center of our dialogue; without it there would be no friction and need to dialogue with the Jewish community,” says Bustany.

“But the conflict is not a religious one, it’s a matter of real estate,” he adds. “What do Muslims from Indonesia and the Philippines care about Palestine?”

Al-Marayati rebuts Bustany’s point by arguing that the status and future of Jerusalem “is a central concern of all Muslims everywhere.”

The Muslim-Jewish Dialogue is now on hold, at least temporarily, after the Arab side called for a time-out in early June. “After the F-16 raids, we needed a cooling-off period to deal with our own community,” says Hathout. “It had nothing to do with the Jewish community.” At a subsequent meeting between the two Arab leaders with a group of rabbis and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), it was noted that most of the principal players would be away for part of the summer and that regular meetings should resume in the fall.

On the JCRC side, Chairman Ozzie Goren convened a meeting of five former chairs of the organization, who were asked to submit suggestions at a future date on the format and content of a resumed dialogue.

With all the ups and downs of dialogues past and present, there remains a vital core of supporters on both sides who believe in the intrinsic value of their efforts and hope devoutly that they might eventually serve as role model for the combatants in the Middle East.

Douglas Mirell, president of the PJA, says: “In the dialogues with Muslims, as in similar dialogues with African Americans and Latinos, what is critically important is not so much what is said, but that they take place at all. There is great value in the dialogue qua dialogue.”

Arthur Stern, who steps nimbly between his roles as JCRC vice chairman, PJA vice president and private citizen, observes:

“Some people may label me as naive, but I believe we should never stop talking. As long as we talk, there is a chance of understanding. When we stop talking, we fall back on rumors and stereotypes.”

Defusing Tension


While violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have captured the headlines in recent weeks, Jewish and Arab leaders in major American cities are working quietly to forestall confrontations between their communities.

Their efforts are marked by some common guidelines.

Don’t try to solve – or even discuss – the basic issues roiling the Middle East. Acknowledge deeply felt differences and go on from there. Condemn any act of violence by their co-religionists in the United States. Build on the trust established in previous years in joint battles against discrimination.

In Jewish communities, the efforts are spearheaded by both mainstream and liberal organizations and are most fully developed in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, cities with the largest Arab and Muslim populations.

“We started establishing contacts with the Arab community after the signing of the Oslo accords seven years ago,” says Allan Gale, assistant director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The area holds some 200,000 Arab Americans, twice the number of Jewish residents.

“We have worked on such issues as discriminatory immigration laws, racial stereotyping and ethnic profiling at airports.

“We’ve had some incidents and some vociferous Arab spokesmen, but on the whole relations are good,” add Gale. “The Arab community here is reticent to act in an unlawful manner.”

In Los Angeles, some 10 Jews and five Arabs met Oct. 17 in the sukkah of one participant. Although all were aware of the Mideast tensions, the meeting had been scheduled some time ago as one in a series of monthly meetings by the “Dialogue Group.”

The group was established more than a year ago, when representatives of the two communities signed a code of ethics in a public ceremony.

“We try to keep open our lines of communications open and learn about each other’s culture and faith,” says Elaine Albert, the urban affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The lines of communication do not include anything as dramatic as secure hotlines or red phones in case of threatening confrontations, “but we are constantly in touch with each other via e-mail or phone,” says Albert.

Jewish membership in the dialogue group include the mainstream Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, represented by Albert, and individual members of the Orthodox and Reform communities. Not surprisingly, the group has a strong liberal representation.

One member is attorney Gideon Kracov of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), who says, “We have a joint interest in dealing with hate crimes and maintaining an attitude of mutual respect.”

Douglas Mirell, the PJA president, observes that “we’re in a period when it’s easy to be carried away by emotions and to say things that we may come to regret later. We need to curtail the level of rhetoric here and the level of violence in the Mideast.”

Another liberal activist is Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue in Brentwood, who says, “We will experience more difficult times, but I’m optimistic that we can maintain a relationship of trust and respect with the Arab-American community.”

A leading Arab voice within the dialogue group and on the Los Angeles scene is Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

Al-Marayati tends to attract controversy. A year ago, his appointment to the National Commissions on Terrorism was rescinded under pressure from mainline national Jewish organizations, which described him as an apologist for terrorists.

Many Los Angeles Jews who have worked with al-Marayati took issue with this description, and his organization strongly condemned the recent destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus by rampaging Palestinians.

“Our dialogue with the Jewish community is working,” says al- Marayati. “We are both free communities, and if we can’t talk to each other, how can you expect Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other? At all times, we must show zero tolerance for violence and hate crimes.”

Phone calls to other leading Arab organizations in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Arab-American Institute, went unanswered.

Al-Marayati said that the lack of response did not indicate a reluctance to talk to the Jewish press, but simply that for the past few weeks, Arab spokesmen have been inundated by media calls. “I only get to answer one in 10 requests,” he said.

In New York, Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is one of the key figures in the “Coalition of Concerned Arab-Christians, Jews and Muslim New Yorkers.”The coalition will meet next Monday and recently released a statement, noting, “Although the tensions that currently exist in the Middle East can intensify emotions here in New York, we can not allow these events to divide our city.”

In addition, “isolated incidents must not be used as an excuse for scapegoating or reason to condemn entire communities,” the statement noted, adding,” By working cooperatively, this coalition can serve as a model for our children and a shining beacon guiding other groups toward resolving their differences.”

To Live and Die in West Beirut


There have been a few Israeli films that dealt with relationships between Arabs and Jews (among them the superb prison drama “Beyond the Walls”), but rarely do we see an Arab movie that tells the story from the perspective of the “other side.”

If only to fill that gap, the screening of “West Beirut” is a welcome addition to the short list of foreign-language movies available to American audiences.

The film by Ziad Doueiri, a young Lebanese cinematographer making his directorial debut, begins in 1975, the beginning of Lebanon’s 17-year-old civil war.

The fighting quickly divides cosmopolitan Beirut, dubbed “The Paris of the Middle East,” into warring camps, with Christian militiamen controlling East Beirut, and the Muslims, West Beirut.

Three 16-year-olds, two Muslim boys and a Christian girl living in West Beirut, are the protagonists and, at first, the sporadic fighting is a lark. School is closed, parents are preoccupied with other problems and the three teens are free to roam the city, shoot Super 8 films, listen to American pop music and, perhaps most importantly, explore their sexuality.

In a memorable scene, they visit a legendary brothel in the Olive Quarter between East and West Beirut, the only enterprise still patronized by both Christians and Muslims.

The kids’ elders, too, try to shrug off the fighting at first. “It’s something between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” says one man. “It has something to do with the Israelis and the Syrians,” says another.

But as the war drags on, even the resilient teen-agers find the fun going out of their explorations. Food is in short supply, people they know are killed, the camera shop that developed their film is now in enemy territory.

Their parents think of emigrating, but, in a refrain with some resonance for Jews, no country wants Lebanese refugees. At the end, one father sighs despondently, “100,000 dead and the game still goes on.”

There are no professional child actors in Lebanon, and director Doueiri relied on amateurs, including his younger brother, to portray the teens.

Their inexperience shows at times, but the importance of the film lies in portraying the humanity of the “other”; in reaffirming the truism that even in war, people are mainly concerned with their mundane personal problems and pleasures; and in affording a candid look at the teen-agers’ world.

“West Beirut” opens at Laemmle’s Music Hall on Sept. 3.

The Human Element of Diplomacy


The all-night sessions, heated confrontations and threats of walkouts that marked the recent Wye Accord negotiations had their parallel 20 years ago, when the Camp David Agreement lay the groundwork for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Back then, as now, the personalities and human interaction among the three pricipals — the leaders of the United States, Israel and the Arab side — were as important as the issues and political strategies highlighted in the news.

This lesson was brought home at a remarkable meeting last month, when many of the leading participants in the Camp David negotiations gathered for a 20th-anniversary retrospective at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.

At hand were two of the then-key players, former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and former Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Khalil.

Prominent Jordanian and Egyptian peace advocates also participated, as did such Israeli veterans of Camp David as Simcha Dinitz, Elyakim Rubinstein and Meir Rosenne.

The president of Ben-Gurion University, Avishay Braverman, said that he had extended an invitation to Carter, but the former president was not able to attend.

The case for human relationships as the ultimate force in diplomacy was put forward in an address by Harold Saunders, who, in 1978, served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.

In diplomacy, and especially peace-making, “we must widen the angle of our lens from the traditional focus on government and institutions to include human beings outside government,” Saunders said. “Many of today’s deep-rooted conflicts are beyond the reach of government. [Negotiations are] not just about concrete issues; they are about human relationships…. These conflicts are not ready for formal mediation, because people do not negotiate about identity, fear, historic grievances or acceptance.”

The human equation was important to Carter, who, before the Camp David summit was convened, told the CIA that he wanted to be “steeped in the personalities of Begin and Sadat” and asked for exhaustive personality profiles of the two leaders, said Saunders.

The task fell to psychiatrist Jerrold Post, who found that Sadat’s and Begin’s personalities could hardly have been further apart, making their ultimate accord even more astonishing.

Sadat was a “big picture” man who detested details and felt he was destined to play a transcendent role in history. By contrast, Begin’s mind focused on exacting details, legal precision and nuances of language. In addition, he was marked by the searing impact of the Holocaust, and he instinctively recoiled from what he felt as pressure exerted by a superior force.

How the two leaders were perceived, especially by their domestic enemies, bears considerable resemblance to the current situation in the Middle East, Post said in an interview with The Jewish Journal during the conference.

When Sadat came to Jerusalem in November 1977, he “was seen by the radical Arab world as a traitor,” Post said. “Begin was expected to cement the Greater Israel, and when, instead, he compromised, many of his followers felt that he had betrayed them.

“Now, 20 years later, Arab rejectionists rail at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a traitor. On the other side, many who voted for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse the Oslo agreement now feel that they have been betrayed.”

Despite the collegial and civil tone of the conference, current regional animosities occasionally broke through. Israeli tempers frayed when Arafat adviser Bassam Abu Sharif recited a list of grievances against the Netanyahu government.

And when Abu Sharif later proclaimed that Palestinians and Israelis should walk hand in hand for peace, former Begin aide Yehiel Kadishai called out: “Say it in Arabic to your people, not here in English.”

No startling historical secrets were uncovered by the participants, but the purpose and success of the conference lay elsewhere, said its organizer, Dr. Dror Ze’evi, head of BGU’s Chaim Herzog Center.

“While we got some good historical material for later analysis, the main achievement of the conference was the fact that it happened,” Ze’evi said. “It’s a success when in a time of tension, senior Jordanian, Palestinian and Egyptian diplomats and scholars sit down with Israelis to talk seriously and quietly about their past conflicts and current problems.” — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Teens Charged with Vandalism

In a surprising twist, two Jewish teens were arrested Jan. 4 in Calabasas on charges of hate-crime vandalism and felony vandalism following the discovery of a swastika painted on the wall of a local elementary school.

School security guards at Chaparral Elementary discovered over New Year’s weekend the graffiti, which included the swastika and a “white power” slogan, and they called school principal Mary Sistrunk.

“The graffiti was all over the school, but it was mostly initials,” said Sistrunk, adding that such attacks at the school were rare. “Fortunately, we were able to get it cleaned up before the students got here.”

The suspects, both from the Calabasas area, also attacked cars in the surrounding neighborhood in what Det. John Manwell of the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department called a one-night rampage.

“I talked to the kids, and another one who was not involved in the crime but knew the suspects, and I don’t believe there was any real racist or anti-Semitic motivation. They just did it for pure shock value,” said Manwell. “Still, it’s very upsetting. Hopefully, [their arrest] will send out a message that this sort of thing is not going to be tolerated.” — Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor

911 from 9 to 5

Remember those affecting billboards that promoted the Jewish Federation as “The Other 911?”

The ad campaign claimed that for Jews in need, the Federation was the place to call for help.

That’s true — but it depends on when you call. These days, when you try the Federation’s main number (323-761-8000) after 5 p.m. and before 9 a.m., you’ll get a recording that says the office is closed. There is no number to call in case of emergency — you’re being evicted from a nursing home, say, or you need a rabbi for a deathbed visit, or a family crisis demands the instant and usually expert help of Jewish Family Service.

The Federation’s recorded message offers only two numbers to call for immediate assistance: Security for the building that houses the Federation itself, and the Federation’s press relations and publicity department.

The Federation is now looking at ways to help those who call after hours, but has not yet reached a decision, said Federation executive vice president John Fishel. In the meantime, for any non-press-related emergencies, you’ll need to call, um, 911. — Robert Eshman, Managing Editor

The Literary Scene

The fact that Jews are people of the book has been borne out by the growing attendance at The Literary Scene, a 5-year-old discussion group sponsored by the Women’s Department of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The bimonthly meetings, which take place on Monday mornings, between September and June, used to be held at Federation headquarters. But so many eager readers now participate that, as of the new year, the group will be meeting in a spacious hall at Temple Beth Am.

The Literary Scene features books by Jewish authors, as well as works that touch on Jewish topics. Recent selections, which have engendered heated debate, include Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” and Susan Isaacs’ “Lilly White.”

The discussion on Jan. 11 will focus on “Out of Egypt,” a family memoir by Andre Aciman, a Harvard professor who grew up within the Jewish community of Alexandria.

Participants are able to purchase all books in advance, at discount prices. A $3 charge for each session helps defray the cost of coffee and bagels. Recent meetings have attracted some 60 attendees from all age groups and with widely varying perspectives. To RSVP or arrange for book discounts, call the Women’s Department at (310) 689-3686. — Beverly Gray, Education Editor

Mideast


A Divided Land

By Eric Silver, Mideast Correspondent

Recent murders in Hebron indicate a new trend in extremism

What the Israeli right likes to call “the battle for the Land of Israel” is in danger of turning into a war of the ultras, Arab extremists vs. Jewish extremists.

The murder of Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, the 63-year-old grandson of the legendary Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook, on the night of Aug. 20 in the Hebron Jewish enclave of Tel Rumeida confirmed a new, provocative trend in the strategy of Palestinian terror.

Like the shooting two weeks earlier of Shlomo Liebman and Harel Bin Nun while guarding the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, it was a pinpoint operation, meticulously planned and executed.

Vulnerable, and Zealous Targets

The targets were vulnerable — two young men patrolling at night on the fringe of their isolated community, a veteran rabbi staying behind when most of his neighbors had gone to pray at the Cave of the Patriarchs. Their anonymous assailants knew when and where to hit them, how to get away undetected.

Yitzhar in the north and Tel Rumeida in the south are separated by 50 miles of West Bank rocks and olive groves. What they have in common is that they are both inhabited by disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement was outlawed as racist. These are the zealots who erected a shrine to Baruch Goldstein, the mass murderer of 29 Muslim worshippers, and who publicly rejoiced at the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

To the Palestinian Authority, they are fair game. Yasser Arafat rejected all Israeli demands to condemn the killings. His West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, told the settlers that if they didn’t want to be murdered, they’d better get out of Hebron. The Palestinian police are not exactly falling over themselves to catch the perpetrators.

Different Victims

Unlike Hamas bombers blowing themselves up in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, these new-style killers know their society will not suffer Israeli collective punishment. Hebron was sealed for a few days, but tens of thousands of Arab laborers from the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were free to work inside the old green-line border. Business flowed as usual.

The killings seem designed to goad the most fanatical foes of the five-year-old Oslo peace process into a terminal cycle of violence.

“The longer this pattern of attack goes on,” warned Zvi Singer, who covers the settlements for the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot, “the greater the prospect of retaliatory attacks… The security forces must prepare themselves for the worst possible scenario, in which a new Baruch Goldstein might execute his own private act of revenge.”

Harsh Words

Rabbi Ra’anan’s neighbors among the seven families living in mobile homes at Tel Rumeida don’t need much goading. Baruch Marzel, Kahane’s self-proclaimed heir, harangued the Likud Defense Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai, as a “murderer” when he visited the site the day after the killing.

When another old warrior, President Ezer Weizman, came to comfort Rabbi Ra’anan’s widow, Marzel branded him an Arab agent. “You are a spy,” he yelled. “You are a danger to the public. You should be locked up in a prison or a hospital.”

This assault on the president was condemned across the political spectrum, from Yossi Sarid of Meretz on the left to the settler Rabbi Benny Elon of Moledet on the right. The Cabinet secretary, Danny Naveh, denounced it as “contemptible.”

Labour spokesmen were not alone in detecting echoes of the “Rabin is a traitor” incitement that ended with Yigal Amir pulling the trigger in a Tel-Aviv square on Nov. 4, 1995.

The Settlers’ Isolation

Marzel’s histrionics highlighted the increasing isolation of the settlers from the Israeli mainstream. Eitan Haber, a veteran military reporter who served as Rabin’s spokesman and adviser, sparked a national debate earlier this month with a Yediot column that began: “A terrible thing has happened to Israeli society in the past decade. The reaction to the death of Israeli citizens in terrorist attacks is a function of political leanings. There’s ‘our’ dead and ‘their’ dead.”

The funeral of the two Yitzhar settlers, he argued, was like a meeting of a secret cult. Even representatives of the right-wing parties stayed away. Half the nation, maybe more, shrugged their shoulders. Their eyes remained dry.

“The reason,” Haber suggested, “is the patronizing air that the settlers have been putting on for years, the arrogant look in their eyes even when they don’t say a word. The way the settlers have projected ‘I’m a better Zionist, a better Jew, than you are’ and “You don’t know anything’ has caused the settlers never to be accepted in people’s hearts… They bury their dead among family only.”

None the less, Binyamin Netanyahu’s government responded to the Ra’anan murder by allocating $10 million shekels ($2.7 million) to replace the Tel Rumeida mobile homes with permanent housing, though it will be many months, if ever, before they are built. The legal process is a minefield, and there is no spare land. Tel Rumeida is in the heart of an Arab suburb.

Yet the prime minister did not yield to settler demands and suspend negotiations with the Palestinians. If media leaks, from Jerusalem and Washington, are to be believed, agreement on the elusive next stage of West Bank withdrawal may even be imminent. The ultras have not won, yet.

A Drink from the Same Cup


If the pursuit of peace in the Middle East will not unite the parties concerned, then one life-sustaining element may. Israeli, Arab and American researchers and engineers have come together to find ways to produce more potable water for agricultural use, as demands for supplies of Middle Eastern and Californian freshwater continue to increase.

“Urban demands [for water] are increasing with the increase in population and standard of living,” said Uri Shamir, head of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Water Research Institute, a multidisciplinary research center that focuses on the science, technology, engineering and management of water. Fresh water that has been used for agriculture, said Shamir, must be shifted to the cities.

“If we want to maintain agriculture the way we have at the moment, we need water and more water,” said Raphael Semiat, head of the Rabin Desalination Laboratory at the Technion, a laboratory funded by Los Angeles businessman Rob Davidow, who’s a world leader in waste-water and sea-water desalination R & D.

With water resources limited throughout the Middle East, the Palestinian-Jordanian-Israeli Water Project has been launched to research new, safe, cost-efficient methods to irrigate crops. One of the more popular methods researched and employed by the project’s committee, which is composed of scientists from the Technion, Ben-Gurion University, Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society and the Palestinian A-Najjah University, is waste-water recycling, a method that purifies waste-water with minimal harm to the environment.

Soon, even this process will not suffice, and the more expensive sea-water desalination process will supplant it — especially in California and Israel, where sea water is abundant.

“It’s a solution that is not free of difficulties, but it is basically on your own territory, using an infinite source — the ocean,” said Shamir, who is currently conducting research in management of disputed international waters at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Sea-water desalination works in one of two ways: a thermal process, which evaporates and then condenses clean water vapor, and water membranes, which filter water through tiny pores about 0.1 micrometers small.

Researchers from the Rabin Desalination Laboratory have worked with I.D.E. Technologies (formerly Israel Desalination Engineering) of Ra’ananna, Israel and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California who have joined with Parsons Corporation of Pasadena and Reynolds Metals Co., to design a state-of-the-art, generic desalination facility that could purify up to 80 million gallons a day using the thermal process. After two years of R & D, the design of the 540-foot tower is now complete, and the partners are looking for investors to implement the design and construct a plant. The most viable locations for the plant are along California’s coast, since Israel’s coast is more populated.

The Jordanians and Palestinians are less likely to employ sea-water desalination because they have little or no access to the sea. Nevertheless, efforts are still underway to conduct joint research on desalination with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists. The Joint Palestinian-Jordanian Water Project, however, needs more funds as well as a more peaceful political environment to resume this research with full force.

“We are trying to continue unhampered,” said Shamir, who believes that cooperation for knowledge for society’s benefit will eventually override any disharmony caused by nationalistic strife.